[Article and photos by Dr Abner Tlakula, owner of Ribola aquaponics facility in Limpopo, South Africa]
Deep Blue Aquatic Systems (Pty) Ltd installed the “Ribola RAS” in mid 2015. The people of Elim, a village in the Vhembe District of Limpopo, were very sceptical when they learnt that the whole thing was to grow fish in, very much like some farmers grow chicken. Would fragile fish survive and grow in such a confined space? And if some survived who would eat the fish? Members of the community do not eat fresh fish,Tinned fish yes, but not fish kept like a pet!!
Three thousand fingerlings arrived about March 2016. The RAS gave very little to worry about, the pumps worked well and the back up generator kicked in without fail when there was a power failure. Our young manager was confident with feeding the fish and doing measurements of water quality which he recorded. The only measure of the fish health was the enthusiastic response to the feed, apart from two red fish in one of our four tanks, nothing was visible!! It was farming in the dark, we had to feed the fish to demonstrate life in the tanks. It was only after adopting a simple system of filtering the water, copied from a fish farmer in Kyasands in February 2017 that we could at last see the fish. (So effective was the filtration, one could clearly see the clean bottom of the tank , attesting to the self cleaning abilities of the RAS.)
We decided to harvest the fish in January 2017, for various reasons the harvest could only start in February 2017. We emptied most of the water, using a submersible pump, into a 5000L tank that was installed for the purpose, to save water. The harvest went well, the fish is between 200g and 350g. The farm is located in close proximity to a bustling transport node, two large shopping centres and a district hospital. We were bought out of our first harvest within two days, part of the first of our four tanks.